This article contains spoilers through House of the Dragon episode 8.
If we’ve learned anything from House of the Dragon, it’s that the maesters of Westeros should probably watch a bit more Grey’s Anatomy. Medical advancements aren’t exactly at their peak during the reign of King Viserys I Targaryen (Paddy Considine), and as we’ve seen, it’s had some harrowing consequences.
Despite some backward techniques, a six-year time jump between episode 7 and episode 8 means the maesters were clearly doing something right to keep a rotting Viserys alive – looking like a Westerosi version of Breaking Bad’s Gus Fring. You don’t need to study to be a doctor in King’s Landing, but if you fancy a career change, here’s everything you need to know about medicine in House of the Dragon.
Milk of the Poppy
The most common medicine we’ve seen is Milk of the Poppy. Those who’ve watched Game of Thrones will remember it was given to King Robert I Baratheon after that unfortunate goring, while Ser Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane was also offered it before he was zombified. In House of the Dragon, it was regularly used to ease the pain of King Viserys.
Milk of the Poppy is a common treatment from the maesters, made from crushed poppy flowers and named for its milky appearance. The drink is effectively the show’s version of morphine and is drunk by patients. It’s most often used to sedate someone before surgery, but here, it kept Viserys in a largely docile state – whether through his choosing or not is up for debate.
In episode 8, “The Lord of Tides,” Viserys turned down his usual Milk of the Poppy dose so he could be more with it when addressing the court on the future of the Driftmark Throne. Viserys was ill from the very first episode, and although theorists first guessed he’d contracted greyscale from the Iron Throne, Considine confirmed it was a type of leprosy. Given that the first season has covered over 30 years, that’s a long time to have Vis hooked on the milky stuff.
Whereas Milk of the Poppy is to ease your pain, Moon Tea is used to prevent pregnancy. George R.R. Martin’s books say it’s a mix of tansy, mint, wormwood, honey, and pennyroyal, but given that tansy and pennyroyal are used in actual abortifacients, he made sure he added a mythical mix of ingredients so no one could actually try it.
Moon Tea first appeared in episode four when a young Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock) snuck out of the Red Keep for a night of debauchery with Uncle Daemon (Matt Smith). Rhaenyra had a busy night, and ended up losing her virginity to Ser Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel). Daemon bragged to Viserys that he’d taken his daughter’s innocence, prompting the King to send a cup of Moon Tea to her chambers via Grand Maester Mellos. These events don’t happen in Martin’s Fire & Blood, but due to an unreliable narrator, it’s possible they did occur.
House of the Dragon seemingly included more Moon Tea in episode eight, when Alicent Hightower (Olivia Cooke) forcibly fed a servant some tea after she accused Aegon (Tom Glynn-Carney) of raping her. Dyana doesn’t appear again, so it’s unclear whether she drank Moon Tea or was poisoned by Alicent to permanently shut her up.
Leeches and Maggots
From House of the Dragon’s early days, the maesters were fighting a losing battle to cure Viserys. Before anyone understood what was wrong with him, the first option was a casual leeching on his sores. Viserys’ original injury was a cut on his back, which comes with the territory of sitting on a throne made of swords. However, the cut didn’t heal,
Not to be confused with Lady Melisandre and Stannis’ Game of Thrones leech ritual on Gendry, House of the Dragon‘s leeching was supposed to purge Viserys of his infected blood. When things got a little more desperate, they resorted to placing his hand in a bucket of maggots. It might sound gross, but maggots are used to eat away at dead skin in real-life medicine. Explaining it to Inverse, Professor Yamni Nigam, said: “The oldest record of the positive association between maggots and human wounds is in the Bible, in the book of Job.”
Apparently, the Mayans would soak cattle blood on a cloth and let it get infected with flies laying their eggs. When the maggots hatched, it was placed on lesions to try and remove the dead flesh. In 2022, maggots are apparently FDA approved and are used to treat the likes of pressure ulcers. Maggots and leeches didn’t work for Viserys, as in episode 3, he was missing the fingers he sliced in the premiere.
In the larger A Song of Ice and Fire world, there are even more seemingly out-there treatments. Sometimes firemilk is used to treat a burn wound or the essence of nightshade (in small doses) is used to help with sleep. You’ll also remember Samwell Tarly’s excruciating cure for Ser Jorah Mormont’s greyscale in Game of Thrones.
Martin said that he wanted Westerosi medicine to be more advanced than the actual Middle Ages because he “didn’t want everybody dying at twenty-six.” Still, the moral of the story is that if dragons and deadly weddings aren’t enough to deal with, try not to get sick in the Seven Kingdoms. As Aemma Arryn’s botched caesarean reminds us, your lover is likely to put their own lineage above your survival.
New episodes of House of the Dragon premiere Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO and HBO Max in the U.S. and Sky Atlantic in the U.K.